There are endless tips out there to help you give a successful speech so I thought I’d take a different approach with this article. Instead of giving you tips that may or may not help you give a great speech, I figured I’d point out ten things to avoid – each of which would almost guarantee that your speech is failure.
1: Don’t practice:
Yes, many experienced speakers wing it and may get lucky from time to time. But it only takes one time for you to make this most basic of mistakes that you’ll never do it again. When you start giving a talk that you haven’t practiced enough, that feeling of embarrassment hits you like a ton of bricks. It’s something every speaker should do in the early stages of his or her career as you’ll most certainly never do it again.
2: Ignore your audience’s needs:
Many speakers use their speeches as an opportunity to get free group therapy. They talk about their challenges, expecting sympathy in return. Instead of helping the audience solve their problems, the roles are reversed. Remember that the speech is for the audience, not the speaker.
3: Overdo it with your style:
If you want to instantly lose credibility with your audience, overemphasize your gestures and your voice. While it’s fun to show off your amazing vocal variety and run all over the place with enthusiasm, the audience will write you off as a mere entertainer and ignore your content – even if it’s good.
4: Bring up taboo topics:
There’s nothing like speaking to a professional audience and talking about sex, politics or religion. As crazy as it sounds, I’ve seen it at public events, closed events and even at company meetings. Remember: when in doubt, leave it out.
5: Insult your audience:
For some speakers, bringing up a taboo topic isn’t enough. They take it a step forward by assuming everyone in the room agrees with them on a particular topic and bashes those that disagree. I’ve witnessed this more than I would have expected.
6: Insult people who aren’t in the room:
While it’s fun to bash celebrities and politicians in everyday conversation, it doesn’t always go over well during speeches. Double ditto for bashing people that have a connection to the audience and/or other speakers who have addressed the audience in the past — it’s just unprofessional.
7: Don’t check your equipment:
If you’re using PowerPoint, make sure you test the computer, projector and cables you’ll be using — you don’t want any last minute technical troubles. If you need internet access, bring along an aircard just in case the network is down in the building you’re in.
8: Dress inappropriately:
For business presentations, you should be more dressed up than your audience (unless they are dressed in business formal — then you should dress the same). Dressing down during a presentation, even in today’s casual society, makes you look less serious about your talk. There are some exceptions to this rule, so check with the person organizing your talk for the appropriate dress.
9: Veer way off topic:
It’s okay to digress a few times during your talk, especially if the audience is extremely interested in a related topic. But sometimes a speech takes a life of its own and becomes a completely new beast from what was originally planned (and practiced) by the speaker — I know, I’ve done this a few times. Stick with your main points and if you have more to add, do it at the end after you’ve covered your material.
10: Act unprofessional:
We’ve covered some items that could fall under this category but consider this a catchall for everything else. Swearing, being overly sexual, using discriminatory language and being overly sarcastic are all common sense mistakes to avoid. But I’ve seen people yell at audience members (overreacting because audience member walked in late or forgot to turn off their cell phone ringer), belch, pick their nose and spit during a talk. Again, you’d think common sense would tell people not to act this way, but it happens.
Bonus: Consume alcohol before your talk:
Okay, it’s called “Liquid Courage” because it puts you in a state where you mind isn’t fully functional so therefore you’re not afraid. But it also slows down the communication between your brain and your mouth (and other body parts) as well as impairs your judgment (hence the reason DUI is illegal).
So these are some things to avoid when giving a speech. These aren’t rocket science, but I see these mistakes quite often. While avoiding them won’t guarantee you a successful speech, it’ll at least help prevent you from giving a very bad one. Happy Speaking.